Judges 10; Acts 14; Jeremiah 23; Mark 9
MUCH OF JEREMIAH 23 IS A denunciation of the “shepherds” destroying and scattering the sheep of God’s pasture (Jer. 23:1; compare Jer. 10 and meditation for July 14). The long section denouncing the lying prophets (Jer. 23:9-40) is one of the most penetrating presentations of the differences between true prophets and false in all of holy Scripture. Its pathos is deepened by the asides of the prophet Jeremiah, asides that not only disclose some element of the true prophet but expose Jeremiah’s own heart: “My heart is broken with me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and his holy words” (Jer. 23:9). The blistering condemnation of dreams that are enthusiastically passed around the circles of the prophets, while these same prophets fail to speak God’s word faithfully (Jer. 23:25-39), has a contemporary relevance that only the blind could miss.
But here I want to focus on the first six verses. In the light of the abysmally immoral and idolatrous kings condemned in the previous chapter, and in the light of the destructive shepherds introduced in this chapter, God presents the ultimate solution. It has three components:
(1) God will destroy the destructive shepherds (Jer. 23:2). That is a theme we have seen before, and one that takes up a fair bit of this chapter.
(2) More importantly, God himself will gather the remnant of the flock from where they have been scattered, and he will bring them back to their pasture. “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing” (Jer. 23:4), the Lord declares. In other words, the promise of an end to the exile and a return of the remnant is now cast in the categories of a scattered flock being returned to its pasture. But there is also an element of expectation that transcends the historical end of the exile: the Lord himself will provide a quality of “pastors” (i.e., “shepherds”) who will transcend what the people have experienced in the past.
(3) In particular, God “will raise up to David a righteous Branch” (Jer. 23:5). The Davidic line will be little more than a stump, but a new “Branch” will grow out of it, “a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land” (Jer. 23:5). His days will bring safety and salvation for the covenant people of God. “This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). Just so: for by him, God will be both just and the One who justifies the ungodly, vindicating them by the life and death of the Branch from David’s line (Rom. 3:20-26).